Producer of the Year Nominees Discuss Latin Grammys 2020 & Exciting Music Trends

Andres Torres and Mauricio Rengifo
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Andres Torres and Mauricio Rengifo attend the Latin Recording Academy's 2019 Person of the Year gala honoring Juanes at the Premier Ballroom at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino on Nov. 13, 2019 in Las Vegas.

On Thursday, the Latin Grammys return with a “music makes us human” theme that highlights musical excellence and the power of music in times of despair. The event will also showcase diverse stories of hope, community, sense of purpose and celebration.

One of the coveted awards of the night is producer of the year, which this year recognizes the talented work of five hitmakers in the Latin industry: Rafa Arcaute, Eduardo Cabra "Visitante," Pablo Díaz-Reixa "El Guincho," George Noriega and Andrés Torres & Mauricio Rengifo.

In celebration of the big night, Billboard talked to some of the nominated producers to discuss the reggaeton-heavy nominations, exciting music trends, and more.

Hosted by Victor Manuelle, Ana Brenda Contreras, and Yalitza Aparicio, the 2020 Latin Grammys will air at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on Thursday, Nov. 19, via Univision. The star-studded event will be preceded by the one-hour pre-show “Noche de Estrellas,” held virtually in Miami, where the majority of the categories will be awarded.

What does this nomination mean to your career?

Andrés Torres, Mauricio Rengifo: This is a dream come true for any producer. It's the third time we're nominated in this category and always next to colleagues we admire a lot. It's such an honor and hopefully, it continues happening because we work very hard to create music that represents us as Latinos in the world. Being part of only five select producers is a huge honor.

Eduardo Cabra: Of all the categories that exist, I think this is one of the most important of the Latin GRAMMYs. It's like getting a best director nomination at the Oscars. However, this year, the greatest happiness was given to me by the projects in which I participated that are nominated. Riccie, Louta, and Cuarteto de Nos are projects that have a different approach to music, but that have as a common denominator the love they feel for music and art. The work done by these artists is the reason I got nominated for producer of the year. I am very proud that these projects have been considered in their respective categories.

Rafa Arcaute: It’s always a joy when it comes to the Latin Recording Academy. I didn’t know anyone in the academy and one day they began nominating me and giving me my space in the industry and I began collaborating with them. There’s a lot of balance this year, a lot of artists from different genres, a lot of new music. Particularly, in the category I’m nominated in, there’s a lot of today’s newer producers who are geniuses and I feel that it’s very well represented with El Guincho, for example, who works in electronic music. Mauricio and Andres represent something very pop and with Edu, we like to explore different styles of music and George works with a lot of organic sounds. I think today’s music is very well represented and it’s very positive despite this being a particular year.

What was your initial reaction to seeing that reggaeton artists are dominating the nominations this year? Would you say the #SinReggaetonNoHayGrammy movement fueled these changes or it was about time the genre gets recognition?

Torres, Rengifo: The Grammys are always going to reflect the good music that's popular every year and without a doubt, reggaeton is a big part of that. Reggaeton is the reason that Latin America is the center of attention and it makes sense that the artists, composers, and producers of this genre are finally getting recognition in major categories.

Cabra: The sound that is dominating the industry is urban or urban pop (popeton). It is the sound that the industry is betting on and that is homogenizing the musical offer. I think music has been divided into 2 parts: entertainment and music. There are artists who are making music with a focus on art and another group that is making music for numbers ... and good for them! Naturally and at the moment in which we find ourselves (social media and digital media), the genre that is marketed the most is the genre that will take over everything. However, not necessarily because an album is nominated for best album of the year, it means that it is the best. It is very difficult to reward art. I always say that Queen, Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin never won a Grammy and the music they created is still relevant. I'm not surprised that they are dominating the major categories precisely because that is what the industry is offering, the sound of the "hit" of the moment, and which investment is betting on.

Arcaute: I was part of the committee and what happened with urban music is that it transformed into the new pop and that generated an invasion in the urban category. Now you have the best representation with the new categories. Artists like J Balvin, Ozuna, and Anuel are so deserving of these nominations because of the way they work and distribute their music and these nominations are a reflection of that. Each one of them is getting better every day and putting a lot of experience into their work. When they raised their voices last year, it was to ask for more space and recognition in the academy. I didn’t see a conflict, if not maturity in the industry. The academy took the message in a positive way and these are the results with nobility and fairness.

David Becker/Getty Images
Eduardo Cabra poses in the press room during The 18th Annual Latin Grammy Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Nov. 16, 2017 in Las Vegas.

Collaborations have enabled several artists to get multiple nominations in the same categories. What’s your take on collaborations? Do you think this is the only way a solo work gets recognized? Or that it’s key for success?

Torres, Rengifo: Collaborations have helped Latin music to get visibility at a global level. We are pro-collaborations, producers are also beginning to work together and I feel that there's so much music out there that one of the best ways to enrich music is by collaborating with composers, producers, and we love that. We think that's the future and we celebrate it a lot.

Cabra: I think that the collaborations are being made for an exchange of likes or views, beyond wanting to do an artistic exchange. Currently, collaborations are made more to see and increase the numbers that one or the other has. It matters much more if you have millions of listeners or millions of followers than admiration for your work. Most of the collaborations we see in the industry are a marketing strategy.

Arcaute: I think that collaborations are genuinely key for what the artist wants to express in their music.  I believe that we are in a moment of transition in the industry. The music industry is constantly evolving and collaborations are a sign of what is happening. I think they are great and it’s a sign of the times. It shows everything that is happening and speaks volumes about Latin music.

What music trends excite you right now?

Torres, Rengifo: Without a doubt, urban music is dominating. I feel that an urban less tropical and more alternative would be cool. Personally, we both like punk rock and we see that many artists are incorporating electric guitars and drums. In the U.S., we see artists such as Machine Gun Kelly have this rock and urban fusion and I think it would be another wing for Latin music. We're working with that vision right now, trying out urban music with more instruments.

Cabra: What I am seeing in 2020 is the algorithm of social media. Not going out on the street or not being able to see the artists defend their music on stage is very complex to be able to answer that question. Currently what one hears is the advertising that one sees on social networks. I don't pay attention to that, I feel like it's too much. What I do believe is that this confinement is helping artists to find their own sound. I think the current situation has made many people think and reflect, which is allowing creators to make new music, which is the right thing to do. I trust that the trend is going to be diversity in the musical offer.

Arcaute: I’m very happy with everything that’s happening in Argentina, almost 50 percent of the nominees are Argentineans and very talented artists who are representing this moment. There’s a lot of connection with Spain and Mexico and I think they are overflowing South America with lots of new music and it’s a trend that I really like. These are artists who are writing a lot, exploring new melodies, and they have a certain flow with how they do and say things. I think this movement has a lot of strength that’s distinguishable and noticeable with a lot of relevant personalities that's marking a generation. I’m also excited about everything that’s happening in urban and pop music. The new artists already have a strong base. They work a lot and have a lot of professionalism, and that doesn’t go unnoticed.

Gabe Ginsberg/WireImage
Rafa Arcaute poses with the Producer of the Year award in the press room during The 17th Annual Latin Grammy Awards at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 17, 2016 in Las Vegas.

When you produce music, particularly the ones you were recognized for at the Latin Grammys, are you thinking about the trends or you follow your instinct?

Torres, Rengifo: We try to have our instincts linked to the trends but we don't force it. We like music that's at the moment. We're fans of songs that are big hits. They inspire and motivate us. But we also let the artists take charge. In the end, we work with the message that they want to send and the music they want to create. All the songs we are nominated for are completely different because we explored what each artist wanted to do and also what we know our audience likes. Our biggest achievement has always been seeing an audience sing our songs. That's the best thing that can happen to a producer.

Cabra: I follow my instincts, definitely.

Arcaute:  I let myself get inspired by the artists and the music. This year a lot of my music was diverse. From Lali who’s super pop to a song that I have with Draco that I think it’s a special gem in my career and then with Nathy I worked on a song with a big band and another one very folkloric. With Rels B, I did something more afro, with Dani and Juanes I did something more rock. These are very strong names that I feel the need to guide myself with their authenticity. I don’t know if the songs that I’m nominated for this year perceive a commercial sound or are 100 percent artistic of what each artist envisioned.

What defines a hitmaker?

Torres, Rengifo: They have to do all their work thinking about the consumer. What are people listening to? What is going to make them dance? We're listening to music at all times, especially the hits that weren't created by us. We analyze the song, the lyrics, and try to understand why it's a hit. That's what obsesses us the most. We like to listen to hits because most of the time we would've done it differently and that makes us rethink how we work. I think we force ourselves to understand a hit when we don't understand it.

Cabra: I think that a hitmaker in 2020 is defined by likes and hearts.

Arcaute: I would say that a hitmaker is someone who does what he feels and is the most honest with what is happening at a time of their life to make music. A hitmaker represent represents someone who has a sensitivity to connect, through both musical language and lyrics, with a mass of people. This has nothing to do with genres or production, it has to do with something that generates a common denominator and doesn’t have a formula. It is something that is achieved on very specific occasions: a specific letter, a specific artist, with a very specific melody that connects on a massive level. I think a hitmaker is defined with that combination.